NASA Logo, External Link
Facebook icon, External Link to NASA STI page on Facebook Twitter icon, External Link to NASA STI on Twitter YouTube icon, External Link to NASA STI Channel on YouTube RSS icon, External Link to New NASA STI RSS Feed AddThis share icon

Record Details

Record 1 of 209
Fun Times with Cosmic Rays
Availability: For help Contact the Information Desk
Author and Affiliation:
Wanjek, Christopher(NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, United States)
Abstract: Who would have thought cosmic rays could be so hip? Although discovered 90 years ago on death-defying manned balloon flights hip even by twenty-first-century extremesport standards cosmic rays quickly lost popularity as way-cool telescopes were finding way-too-cool phenomena across the electromagnetic spectrum. Yet cosmic rays are back in vogue, boasting their own set of superlatives. Scientists are tracking them down with new resolve from the Arctic to Antarctica and even on the high western plains of Argentina. Theorists, too, now see cosmic rays as harbingers of funky physics. Cosmic rays are atomic and subatomic particles - the fastest moving bits of matter in the universe and the only sample of matter we have from outside the solar system (with the exception of interstellar dust grains). Lower-energy cosmic rays come from the Sun. Mid-energy particles come from stellar explosions - either spewed directly from the star like shrapnel, or perhaps accelerated to nearly the speed of light by shock waves. The highest-energy cosmic rays, whose unequivocal existence remains one of astronomy's greatest mysteries, clock in at a staggering 10(exp 19) to 10(exp 22) electron volts. This is the energy carried in a baseball pitch; seeing as how there are as many atomic particles in a baseball as there are baseballs in the Moon, that s one powerful toss. No simple stellar explosion could produce them. At a recent conference in Albuquerque, scientists presented the first observational evidence of a possible origin for the highest-energy variety. A team led by Elihu Boldt at NASA s Goddard Space Flight Center found that five of these very rare cosmic rays (there are only a few dozen confirmed events) come from the direction of four 'retired' quasar host galaxies just above the arm of the Big Dipper, all visible with backyard telescopes: NGC 3610, NGC 3613, NGC 4589, and NGC 5322. These galaxies are billions of years past their glory days as the brightest beacons in the universe. Yet they still harbor central, supermassive black holes, which could generate energetic particles if they are spinning.
Publication Date: Jan 01, 2003
Document ID:
(Acquired Feb 06, 2004)
Subject Category: ASTROPHYSICS
Document Type: Technical Report
Publication Information: SEE parent document record, "Space Science Reference Guide, 2nd Edition"; LPI-Contrib-1154
Financial Sponsor: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Greenbelt, MD, United States
Organization Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Greenbelt, MD, United States
Description: 3p; In English; Original contains color illustrations
Distribution Limits: Unclassified; Publicly available; Unlimited
Rights: Copyright; Distribution under U.S. Government purpose rights
Miscellaneous Notes: Repr. from Mercury Magazine, July/August 2002
› Back to Top
Find Similar Records
NASA Logo, External Link
NASA Official: Gerald Steeman
Site Curator: STI Program
Last Modified: September 30, 2017
Contact Us